Western Governors’ Drought Forum in Santa Fe illustrates drought's impact on recreation, tourism

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MEDIA COVERAGE: Read a story about the Santa Fe Drought Forum by Bruce Krasnow, Business Editor of the Santa Fe New Mexican. Hear Zelie Pollon of KSFR (Santa Fe Public Radio) interview WGA Policy Advisor Carlee Brown about the workshop.

The fifth workshop of the Western Governors’ Drought Forum examined the challenges facing recreation and tourism during a period of drought. Following are highlights from “Drought Impacts and Solutions in the Recreation and Tourism Sectors," a two-day workshop (Jan. 28-29, 2015) at Inn at the Loretto in Santa Fe, N.M.., organized by the Western Governors' Association (WGA) for the Chairman’s Initiative of WGA Chairman and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval. (Here's the final agenda, a case study and list of participants.)

Opening Remarks: Keith Gardner, Chief of Staff for New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez

  • Gardner ProfileKeith Gardner“New Mexico has 35 state parks, 19 of which involve the management of lakes.  Where water is a prime attraction and when there’s less surface water, we have to pivot to the other opportunities at our state parks.”
  • “The state Drought Task Force launched by Gov. Martinez has focused on four areas: drinking water, agriculture, watershed health, and recreation & tourism.
  • "In 2014, Gov. Martinez signed legislation that includes $89 million for critical water infrastructure projects throughout the state, the largest investment in water in state history."

Roundtable I: How Drought Manifests Itself in New Mexico and the West

  • Sam Fernald, Director, New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute: “Drought moves around in the West, but New Mexico has been at the epicenter of drought for some time. Since 2002, New Mexico has been more or less in a constant state of drought with only intermittent relief. Our current situation appears to be improving as it looks like drought conditions may lift slightly.”
  • Haas ProfileAmy Haas Tom Blaine, State Engineer, Office of the State Engineer: “Currently in New Mexico we have water supply problems, drought or not. Groundwater is being mined quicker than it can be recharged. We need to focus our efforts on planning for shortage, conservation, and water reuse efforts.” 
  • Amy Haas, Acting Director and General Counsel, Interstate Stream Commission: “It is essential to remember that rivers are dictated by hydrologic boundaries and not political ones. We need to find regional solutions to these issues so that managers are not constantly resorting to litigation.”
  • Blaine: “What we really need to do is break the nexus between short water supplies and the drought. In people’s minds, the correlation to drought is lack of rain, lack of precipitation. Once it rains, people say ‘Yippee, we’re done,’ but we’re actually not.”

Roundtable II: Drought Impacts and Strategies for Recreation and Tourism

  • Rebecca Latham, Secretary Designate, New Mexico Department of Tourism: “The New Mexico Department of Tourism devised a new marketing program, 'New Mexico True,' aimed at changing the perception that the state is an Veruni ProfileRich Verruniarid desert by highlighting our many recreational opportunities involving water.”
  • Rich Verruni, General Manager, Bishops Lodge: “Not only do we inform our guests about what they can do to conserve water, we also educate our staff about the value of water. Through orientations, we train our staff on how precious the resource is and steps that they need to take to conserve it.”
  • Olga Wilhelmi, Project Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research: Planning for drought at the local level is extremely beneficial. For every dollar spent on preparation and planning, $7 are saved in response and mitigation after a disaster occurs.”
  • Toner Mitchell, New Mexico Public Lands Coordinator, Trout Unlimited: “A robust recreation and tourism economy is vital to rural economies in the West. Seasonal workers in the recreation and tourism industry have a lot at stake, so disruptions to the sector through natural disasters are especially hard on them.”

Case Study: The River Stewards Initiative

  • Linda Calhoun, Mayor, Red River, New Mexico: “We have improved fish habitat in Calhoun ProfileLinda Calhountwo stretches of the river through this project. The river has undergone a significant positive change, but the change looks quite natural. The stream was previously wide and shallow, but we added rock structures and woody debris to create fish habitat and significantly increase the value of the river from a fishing standpoint.”
  • Ryan Flynn, Secretary of Environment, New Mexico Environment Department: “Getting community support is a critical element to any successful project in the River Stewards Initiative. We strongly encourage NGOs to work with local governments and play to their unique strengths to submit an application together. The worst case scenario is that an NGO gets awarded a project that the local community resents. It will not be maintained, and will not be successful in the long-term.” 
  • Calhoun: “Red River is a tourism-based economy. To encourage tourism we have tapped into social media to get the word out about the river restoration projects undertaken in Red River. In fishing areas we post fliers that encourage anglers to share pictures of their fishing experience on social media.”
  • Read more about the Case Study

Roundtable III: Working with Communities and Stakeholders

  • Nathan Fey, Director, Colorado River Program, American Whitewater: “There is a lot to be gained from coordinating with reservoir operators. Releasing water to fulfill downstream obligations in a slower, more controlled manner, as opposed to all in one pulse, allows recreation opportunities on rivers for a longer time period. Through communication and coordination outfitters can gain increased operational certainty, even in the face of drought.”
  • Myron Armijo, Tribal Representative, State of New Mexico: “Drought is a silent Shober ProfileDiane Shoberdisaster: there is never an obvious beginning, and it is never clear when one will end. When you are in the midst of one, however, you cannot escape the impacts. From impacts to cattle operations to destruction of cultural sites, tribal entities are extremely impacted by drought.” 
  • Diane Shober, Executive Director, Wyoming Office of Tourism; Chair, Western States Tourism Policy Council: “Tourism is an export economy. We rely on non-residents to travel to our destinations. Maintaining and marketing quality of life in tourism destinations is essential to driving economic expansion and bringing new businesses in.”
  • Nathan Fey, Director, Colorado River Program, American Whitewater: “There’s a perception of recreation requiring a certain flow on the river. Recreational flows exist on a range. Sometimes they can be too low, sometimes too high to be safe. With this knowledge, we step away from an exact target flow to have for the river.”


Roundtable IV: Innovative Approaches to Drought

  • Gordon Briner, CEO, Taos Ski Valley: “We look at snowmaking as a method of water banking. Water is stored as snow in the winter and then returned to the system in the spring, available for use in river recreation, agricultural, and municipal uses. Some 90% of the water that we store as made snow, goes back into the river system after it melts.” 
  • Todd Davidson, Director, Travel Oregon: “Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Forrest ProfileForrest Richardsondoes not have a formal program to transport fish from river systems that are expected to go dry. This year a chapter of Trout Unlimited partnered with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to salvage 7,000 fish from a drying tributary of the Deschutes River.”
  • Forrest Richardson, Forrest Richardson & Assoc. Golf Course Architects: “Just about every advance in irrigation technology that has evolved has roots in golf. Computer controlled irrigation systems were being utilized on golf courses as far back as 1979. Irrigation efficiency is critical to the golf industry, and that is demonstrated in a 15% reduction in water use at golf courses across the entire country in recent years.”
  • Darin Sand, Vice President of Development, Goodman Realty: "During the design and renovation of the Hotel Andaluz in Albuquerque, water conservation was a chief goal. The results of that dedication to water conservation are impressive. Hotel renovations have resulted in an average saving of 6750,000 gallons of water a month.”
  • Scott Canning, Santa Fe Botanical Garden: “When people move here from the East, they plant in their yards what they were used to seeing back home. I can’t blame them for that. But we have to teach people to plant things that sip, not gulp.”

Roundtable: Policy Approaches  

  • Jeff Kendall, General Counsel, New Mexico Environment Department: “This past legislative session we decided to allocate 60% of our capital outlay dollars to water and waste-water infrastructure. Infrastructure improvements were prioritized in vulnerable rural communities that have had a water shortage, or had a failing waste-water system. These small communities don’t have the debt capacity to take on water projects, so the infrastructure often declines.” 
  • Jimmy Hague, Director, Center for Water Resources, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership: “There is an important nexus to recognize between federal water policy and state water use. There are more constructive and proactive roles that the federal government can play to encourage cooperative and collaborative local solutions.” 
  • Martha Rudolph, Director of Environmental Programs, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; Vice President, Environmental Council of the States: “Even without drought, population increase already creates stress on water resources. But when drought is overlaid on top of this you need to develop innovative and creative solutions to maintain water resource security.” 

Jim Ogsbury PointsJim Ogsbury, WGA Executive Director, fields questions.

Listen to a radio show, titled “Water is Life,” produced by youth organizations Nuestro Rio and Generation Justice. The hour-long show provides commentary on drought and the necessity for water conservation in New Mexico and features interviews with participants of the January 28-29 Drought Forum meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Learn about other Western Governors' Drought Forum meetings here and also:

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